This post is part of the Learn to Sew series aimed at beginners.
Set up your machine? Check. Threaded it up? Check. Now comes the fun part!
Using a sewing machine for the first time can be a little daunting but just relax, take your time and have some fun with it. Practise stitching on some calico (unbleached cotton) or plain medium-weight cotton - basically you want something that’s cheap and not slippery. Pick out some brightly coloured thread that stands out against the fabric so you can monitor your stitches … and marvel at how your accuracy improves with practice!
I've divided this 'How to Stitch' post up into two parts as it was getting quite long. In this first post I'll show you how to start and finish stitching, and in part two you'll get some practise in sewing straight lines, curved lines and corners.
Preparing to stitch
Check your machine is on the basic stitch setting and that it’s threaded up correctly (see How to Thread Your Sewing Machine). You want to have pulled out about four inches or so of “spare” thread to prevent it from unthreading itself from the machine – it also helps to hold onto the threads when you make your first stitches.
Place your fabric under the presser foot with the area you want to stitch in front of the machine, and lower the presser foot to hold it in place. NB. Lowering your presser foot is essential to help keep the fabric in place (unless you’re doing some freestyle advanced machine embroidery) but is easy to forget – you might want to make your sewing mantra “lower your presser foot” for a while…
The upper/spool thread should be under the presser foot but on top of the fabric, and the lower/bobbin thread underneath the fabric. Both threads should be sticking out towards the back so you don’t sew over them and tie them in knots.
Before you start any new line of stitching, check that the needle is lifted as high as it can go (turn the handwheel to adjust it). This helps to avoid the frustrations of stuck or unravelling thread.
Turn your machine on. Place both hands lightly on the fabric either side of the presser foot to help guide it as you’re stitching - but don’t push or pull. Needless to say (arf!), keep your fingers out of the way of the needle! Gently lower your foot onto the pedal to start stitching…
Fun, isn’t it? Right, I’ll let you enjoy that for a little while…
Okay, back to business. Some machines have speed setting buttons, so you can start slow and build up speed as you throw caution to the wind. If, like me, your machine doesn’t have this luxury, you’ll have to learn to control the speed by how much pressure you apply to the pedal. Apparently this is like driving a car, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t drive.
Using the handwheel
If you want to stitch reeeeeally sloooowwwly – or maybe just move forward by one or two stitches for added precision – you can use the handwheel at the side of your machine. Turn it towards you to basically perform the same function as the pedal but manually. I sometimes use the handwheel to make the first stitch into the fabric to avoid the thread coming loose and to ensure the needle goes exactly where I want it to go.
When you’ve finished stitching, raise your presser foot so you can pull your fabric out a little. The needle will need to be raised – you can use the hand wheel to move it up slightly until the thread gives enough for you to move the fabric. You can snip the threads with small scissors (embroidery or nail scissors are fine).
Alternatively – and pretty awesomely – your machine might have a little blade on the left hand side that you can use in one uber-slick manoeuvre.
Securing your stitches
When you’re sewing for real, unless your stitches are temporary, you’ll want to secure them in place. You can do this one of two ways:
1) Hold down the reverse (or back) stitch lever or button on your machine to sew backwards (or "back tack") two or three stitches over the end of your stitching, then forwards again to secure. Snip the threads close to the fabric. This is the method you will probably use the most.
2) If you’ve sewn off the end of the fabric, you can just tie the two ends of thread together in a double knot and snip close to the knot. This is usually done on darts or other tricky spots where you don’t want the extra bulk of reverse stitches.
You can sew! Hurrah!
Up next: How to Stitch: Part 2 - straight lines, curved lines and corners.
Liked this? Read more Learn to Sew posts.